Woman Is Murdered: Quarrel Among Negroes Results in Fatal Shooting Affray
The Sadie Santee Murder Case #13036
by Sherry Maruna
"A gala holiday for colored people of Northern Ohio" claimed the headline of a newspaper advertisement. The advertisement was for an "Emancipation Celebration" held in Cleveland, Ohio on August 2, 1909 that included a parade, races, a ball game, a beauty and a baby show, dancing and a "popular lady contest" with the proceeds going to the Home for Aged Colored People. The advertisement was written in a newspaper directed at the African American population in the city of Cleveland. The newspaper was available at F. Valentine's Grocery and several other locations on Central Avenue just two blocks from Webster Avenue. A few months after the "Emancipation Celebration" in a home on 1248 Webster Avenue, a "colored" or "mulatto" woman, Sadie Santee, was shot four times and taken to Huron Road Hospital via Black and Wright's Ambulance Service around 2:00 am on October 2, 1909. The 5'8", 200 pound, green eyed/black haired "housekeeper" died upon arrival.
This murder may at first seem insignificant because the victim was not famous before or after her murder but more specifically because she was not white. Racial prejudice in America was part of the fabric of everyday life for both African American and white citizens during the first few decades of the 20th century. Therefore, the newspapers did not follow Sadie Santee's murder. Its verdict was not front page or even 2nd page news. The two leading daily newspapers,The Leader and the Cleveland Plain Dealer held to a policy that ignored African American concerns and issues. However, that the murder took place was news and this in itself was indicative of the representation African American's were receiving in Cleveland at this time. This study is an attempt to piece together this murder case and also what it reveals about the social, economic and cultural life for both African Americans and white people in Cleveland, Ohio and the United States during the early 1900's.
On Friday, October 1, a half moon rose slightly before 7:00 PM as a light north wind blew in colder temperatures typical of Fall in Cleveland, Ohio. The low that night was to reach a chilly 36 degrees. Too cold to be out after the warmth of the sun had faded. Sadie Santee, a forty-three year old "light skinned" African American was resting in her parlor at approximately 12:00 midnight when one of her boarders, Roy Lyons, entered the room. Roy Lyons was not only one of Santee's boarders but one of her lovers. The couple quarreled "as to who should shut the barn door" and lock it. Four shots rang out; three hit Santee, two in the abdomen and one in her right hand. The fourth bullet "came through my room - it was just inches from me," claimed Lizzie Parrot a boarder whose room was adjacent to the dining room.
A Coroner's Inquest was called by M.A. Boesger, M.D. and subpoenas were issued for Thomas Maron, a patrolman on duty the night of the murder, George Flood and Lizzie Parrot, two boarders at Santee's 1248 Webster Avenue home. The witnesses were to report to the courthouse to give their testimonies on Monday, October 4, 1909 at 10:00 am. Maron's testimony claimed upon arriving at the Webster Avenue home, that Santee was already at the hospital. He talked with Lizzie Parrot and confirmed that there was an argument between Santee and Lyons, then four shots were fired, fatally wounding Santee. Both Flood and Parrot testified that Roy Lyons fired four shots at Sadie Santee and then ran off . George Jefferies, Lizzie Parrot's boyfriend was not issued a subpoena but gave a statement. One other person was mentioned within the testimonies, that of Ed Phillips, George Jefferies friend and an occasional visitor to Santee. Both men play integral roles in this case.
Roy Lyons and William Buoms, a friend of Lyons, were issued subpoenas and ordered to report to the courthouse on October 13, 1909 at 10:00 am. The cause of the delay between the subpoenas and recorded testimony was found in two local daily newspapers. The Cleveland News and the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran short articles (second page and front page respectively) on the murder in their Saturday, October 2, 1909 issues. Both newspapers reported that Santee was murdered and that Roy Lyons had "fled" and "disappeared." No follow up articles on Santee's murder appeared in the two newspapers mentioned.
Roy Lyons was apprehended in Buffalo, New York on October 12, 1909. Improved interstate communication between law enforcement agencies within an association format facilitated Lyons arrest. As part of a push towards "professionalism," law enforcement agencies not only traded information across state lines, but collected statements from the criminal that were later utilized in court. Just such a statement of Lyons' version of the murder was recorded in Buffalo, New York. Lyons also recorded a statement on October 13, 1909 within the coroner's inquest. However, Buoms testimony and his connection with the case were not found.
Two witnesses placed Lyons in the house at the time of the murder. This appeared to be a simple case, however, Lyons claimed it was self defense both in the Buffalo statement and during his trial, though only a partial record of the trial still exists. One can, however, enfold the intricacies and details of the case which bring to the surface several facets of life in this area for those involved. The first facet examined was the area where the people involved lived, worked and enjoyed leisure time.
The neighborhood that the people involved lived in and the establishments they frequented reveal important social implications. For example, both Parrot and Lyons mentioned The Empire Theater as a place they went for entertainment. The Empire Theater was located between Huron Road Hospital and the Caxton Building on the corner of Huron Road and 9th Street. An ad in the Cleveland Citizen, a weekly newspaper, presented an interesting view of the type of shows offered during the week of October 2, 1909. The Empire claimed to "always be a good show" with "Mats Daily" and "Ladies all seats for 10 (cents)." The features included, "Fred Irwin's Gibson Girls in Burlesque" and the "French Portuguese Musical Comedy entitled, 'Frenchee.'" With "Amateurs Friday" and "Smoking Permitted," the Empire Theater provided a certain type of adult entertainment that also included wrestling and gambling.
Parrot claimed that herself, Santee and their dates, Ed Phillips and George Jefferies went to The Empire Theater on at least one occasion.Roy Lyons stated that he went to the theater with George Flood, a boarder of Santee's and Parrot's brother, on the night of the murder to wrestle and win some money. He further stated for the trial record that Parrot and Santee were "hustlers" or prostitutes. Combine his statement with the features at The Empire Theater and one can ascertain the atmosphere of the neighborhood. Additional examination of the surrounding streets and Webster Avenue itself fills out a more complete picture.
Webster Avenue was five blocks south of Huron Road sandwiched between 9th Street and 14th Street. Santee's boarding house, numbered 1248, was across the street from a Syrian Church and surrounded by frame houses. The frame structures were one-and-one-half and two story "workers" cottages with "gabled ends" that faced the street. This area was to become known by 1915 as the "vice district." It contained a "deviant subculture" that included gambling, excessive drinking and sexual promiscuity. The gambling houses and brothels catered to African Americans and whites, both native born and immigrants. Lyons stated that Parrot was entertaining "a white fellow, an Italian" whom "she called… in from the street" the night of the murder. In Lyons' statement on the death of Sadie Santee, given in Buffalo on October 12, 1909, Lyons claimed that Sadie "would turn tricks right in front of me" even during the summer months of June, July and August when he was employed at J.H. Harbor. Lyons said he was giving Sadie money "to keep her from sporting." The people involved in this murder case lived in a lower class, industrial section near the docks of the Cuyahoga River; it was one of the least desirable neighborhoods to reside in.
There was a cigar factory located on the same back street where Santee's barn was, Columbus Ct. and a warehouse on the corner of Webster and 9th Street. Single and double wooden frame residences occupied the area east and south of 9th and 14th Streets. The occupants of these residences illuminate the wide variety of ethnicity represented in this area. Mostly boarding houses, the northern numbers of East 9th Street, 1807-1811 were home to white men and women of English and German descent with occupations that included, attorney, auditor, inspector of steel works, commercial traveler, wine salesman, insurance agent. The boarding houses from street number 1886 to 2250 on East 9th Street were home to mostly Chinese persons with occupations of cooks and waiters. From the East 9th Street number 2000 on, a small sprinkling of black or mulattos, persons of mixed parentage, was found with occupations of laborer and domestic. The spatial isolation of ethnic groups and the tendency of immigrant streams, migration from the same village in Europe, are represented in the divisions of East 9thStreet.
Two cross streets, Ontario and Bolivar offered the same spatial isolation of ethnicity. Ontario Street was home to the Italians. In 1900, Italian immigrants in Cleveland numbered 3,000, in 1910 the number increased to 11,000. The Italians held jobs in a variety of industries including the garment trade and specifically stone cutting, gardening and business enterprises in the Market District. Bolivar was home to both Greek and Syrian immigrants. Boarding houses on Bolivar were home to Syrian immigrants that worked as laborers, cigar makers and fruit venders.
The brick buildings in the area were the Home for the Aged, Little Sisters of the Poor and St. Joseph's Church and Hall. Just a little further south and east the number and ethnicity of the churches increase. Perry Hall Jewish Theater, a Greek Catholic Church, St. Bridget's R.C. Church & School, the Slovak Evangelical Lutheran Church and St. Anthony's Church were all within a five to seven block area. The range of ethnicity in a relatively small area of the city represents testimony of the impact that immigration manifested in Cleveland during the early 1900's. Immigration, industrialization and urbanization need to be explored in a regional and national historic context to better understand the realities experienced by the people involved in the case.
American in the early 1900's was experiencing rapid growth and change through the triad of immigration, industrialization and urbanization. The second wave of immigrants arriving between 1880 and WWI, were mostly from Southern and Eastern Europe. The affect on the African American population from this huge influx of people was a reduction from 15% to less than 10% of the United States population by 1920. African Americans represented only 1-2% of the total population of Cleveland before the Great Migration.
The Great Migration of African Americans from the American South to Northern cities, though beginning with the institution of intimidation and segregation of African Americans by white Southerners following the Reconstruction Era, was not significant in numbers until the years 1912 through 1919. The population in Cleveland had increased from 381,768 people in 1900 to 560,663 people in 1910 and approximately one-third of Clevelanders were foreign born. These immigrants were attracted to the large number of industrial jobs available in the Midwest. In 1910, there were an estimated 8,500 blacks in Cleveland and all but 17 of 155 Census tracts on the East Side contained some black residents with no tract more than 25% black.
A low African American's population presence in Cleveland was important because the area that the murder took place in was intermixed with white, ethnic groups. In fact, the boarding house that Sadie Santee ran rented to both white and African American boarders. Parrot and her brother George Flood were both white and claimed to have known Santee from their hometown of Chatham, Ontario in Canada. African Americans' presence in Cleveland was small at this time and racial discrimination both socially and economically was just beginning to surface. The urban environment was expanding beyond a "walking city," where job and home were in close proximity, to class divided residential districts. The advent of the streetcar and the automobile provided mobility for the middle class to move outside the city limits into "suburbs." This left an "inner city" core that immigrants and African Americans filled.
The above statistics also illustrate an important designation between occupations of the residents in this area. While white immigrants were able to tap into the economic mainstream, African Americans were increasingly disenfranchised and forced into positions with low pay, little job security and no chance for advancement. Unappealing employment for African Americans offered by the city included spittoon cleaning, garbage hunting, street cleaning and truck driving.
Lizzie Parrot stated that Roy Lyons worked at the Hollenden Hotel. This hotel, which opened in 1885 and was open to both black and white patrons, provided employment with jobs such as servants, janitors, chauffeurs and porters. Yet Lyons suggested that he wrestled at the Empire Theater for extra money to pay rent. Prize fighting or boxing among African Americans as a form of entertainment, though cited as a sublimation of violent aggression, was also something the audience gambled on. For many African Americans, lack of legitimate economic opportunity created dissatisfaction, despondency and frustration. Increasingly, African Americans were driven into careers of crime.
For an African American woman the job opportunities were slim. Three out of every ten black woman in Cleveland were domestic servants which entailed long hours, low pay and a servile demeanor. Another occupation open to African American women, head of a boarding house, took advantage of the lack of housing.
The population density of the Central Avenue-Scovill area in 1910 was forty-eight to eighty two inhabitants per acre as compared to Cleveland as a whole at thirteen inhabitants per acre. Sadie Santee's 1248 Webster Street home boarded four people, George Flood, Lizzie Parrot, Roy Lyons and Thomas Maron. In 1905, in the approximate area that Sadie Santee lived, a house that rented for fifteen dollars a month and housed two lodgers at $1.25 per week saw two thirds of its rent paid by the lodgers. Lyons claimed to have given Santee as much as "$8, $9, $10 per week" during the summer when he was employed. It would appear that Santee's "sporting" or "hustling" was not her main source of income. Though one can only speculate, the credibility of Lyons' accusation that Santee, Parrot and even Santee's daughter who lived across the street were prostitutes remained questionable.
Unquestionably, the murder of Sadie Santee was a murder of passion. Classified as an intimate murder, Santee was not alone as a victim of this type of murder. During the week of October 1-8, 1909 in theCleveland Plain Dealer, sixteen intimate murders were reported and of these, two involved African Americans. Homicide was composed of the same familiar elements, domestic argument, drink, flaring anger, the challenge to honor across class, ethnic and racial lines. A male perpetrated this murder, which was the case in over 90% of all violent deaths. Additionally, the murder was accomplished with a gun which accounted for over 40% of all deaths in the early 20th century. The gun that killed Santee was her own. Lyon's, who shared a room with Santee claimed that he retrieved the gun from Santee's trunk.
The presence of alcohol was found in Parrot's testimony. Lizzie Parrot stated that she bought beer the night of the murder for Ed Phillips and Sadie Santee. Ed Phillips was also on the premises the night of the murder but it is not clear when or where he went. No subpoena for Ed Phillips' testimony was found and one can speculate whether one was issued or not. The victim consumed alcohol the night of the murder but it was not clear if the defendant was drinking. The elements exposed were indicative of violence; however, the domestic sphere on this particular case exceeded the parameters normally found.
Within the testimony, particularly Parrot's and Lyons's, it was found that the parties involved were married, yet no one was currently living with their spouse or divorced. This was indicative of domestic upset and the lack of coherent family ties. Lyons stated that Santee was married but did not get along with her husband. Although the Coroner's Verdict recorded that Santee was a "widow," this was in conflict with Parrot's statement that Santee's husband was present the morning after the murder. Lyons was also married but claimed to have been "living with her (Santee) as her husband, sharing a room and a bed since March of 1909. Lizzie Parrot was currently living with one man who was absent for two weeks prior to the murder and was also married to a man believed to be in Kansas. Santee's daughter, who was 27 years old and lived across the street from the 1248 Webster boarding house, had a child from a live-in partner who was no longer around. In this case, legitimate spouses were disregarded and intimate relations beyond monogamy were the norm.
Roy Lyons admitted killing Sadie Santee on October 2, 1909. He claimed it was self-defense. He claimed that on another occasion, Santee had threatened him with a razor and said, "I've got a gun in my trunk that I can tame you with." Lyons also claimed that on the night of the murder, Santee had his "bayonet." Lizzie Parrot stated that she heard both an "ax" as well as a gun fall to the floor after the final shot was fired. The truth of what actually happened that night has to be filtered through witnesses' perceptions.
The piecing together of details and context can only generate assumptions, speculations and generalizations. One can speculate on Lyons' fate. In the early 1900's, blacks were convicted 80% of the time, much higher than white convictions. Lyons was not considered a threat to society; he just violated the "general sense that men should not kill women." However, jurors and boards of pardons were not particularly sympathetic towards African American criminals. Beginning in the late 19th century, criminals were no longer "lost souls" or the result of deprivation, lack of decent family life, bad education or desperation, increasingly, they were thought to be truly different, both mentally and physically. An "electric chair" rather than a hangman's rope performed executions. Whether or not Lyons was convicted and executed remained speculation, but based on the context of early 20th century life for African American males, his odds of an acquittal were slim.
The homicide and conviction rate for African Americans was 12.9 per 100,000 in 1901. In comparison, the Italian homicide rate at the same time was 26.5 per 100,000. Italian immigrants mostly arrived as single men and therefore fell into the bachelor subculture that maintained a high rate of violence. Italy also maintained the highest homicide rate in Europe. However, by 1908, Italian immigrants' homicide rate fell to 15 per 100,000 and steadily decreased after while the African American homicide rate steadily rose. This was partially explained by the admittance of Italians into the economic mainstream and the exclusion of African Americans.
Roy Lyons was a victim of circumstance
as was Sadie Santee. Although the connection between social, economic and cultural
factors to murder was established in this case, "why" a person takes the life
of another person cannot be answered. Societies throughout time have punished
murderers differently but they were consistently punished. The people involved
in this case had little opportunities and even fewer pleasures. Anger, desperation
and hopelessness were and are indicators of violence. Cleveland, Ohio, and the
United States held little else for its African American citizens in 1909.